The end SARS or end police brutality is one of the most successful, people based peaceful and well coordinated protests in the history of Nigeria since the “Ali must go” protest in the 1970’s. Without a single leader controlling the protest, angry Nigerians took to the streets to demand justice for the bestial, unprofessional, extrajudicial killing of youths by elements of the defunct Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). The battle is well fought, now is time to sheath sword, negotiate and strategize.
Granted that the end SARS protesters have no leaders, it is also important to note that they must present a well crafted demand, then back off to give the government time to implement. It is indeed a matter of time before everything goes up in flames now that sponsored thugs are hitting the prisons. Already it is believed that some devious members of the ruling party are injecting violence into the peaceful protests to escalate the situation and rubbish the agitation.
The Government of President Mohammadu Buhari on its part must manage the protesters by holding back on the use of force. The youths have nothing else to lose. Most of them are graduates without jobs. Many have gone into legitimate business the system including the police won’t let them succeed because of extortion. They are the generation of Nigerians who did not benefit from Nigeria. They survived through sweat and toil. Paid their fees, provided private electricity, security, water, schools, roads to exist in a failed system where there are no jobs for the children of nobody. They know that today leaders enjoyed the best of Nigeria, yet these overfed leaders have chosen to make life unbearable. Only recently they increased electricity tariffs, taxes, etc in the midst of a pandemic.
I am guided by the fact that emotions are high as gory episodes of extra judicial killings continue to surface. It is true that nothing will replace the lives lost and no amount of nice words from the government can take away the pains, fear and hatred caused by the dreaded SARS operatives. Anger of the youths palpable but a truce has to be reached soon. There are so many demands to push forward. Sponsored rogues are trying to scuttle gains of this protest. Now is the best time to dialogue and table more issues before the government. Youths have won the battle they should not lose the war!
I call for a public trial where victims accounts of defunct SARS brutality should begin immediately. This should be followed by letting guilty officers swing from the noose. This will help in appeasing broken hearts and at the same time serve as deterrent to others having the same mindset.
Already most police officers are scared of the youths as it stands. A forceful removal of the youths from the street will make a mockery of all their efforts and restore the confidence among would be rogue officials who are still on the prowl, waiting for the youths to make mistakes. The Buhari administration known for careless programs and policies will be guided going forward. The statement is loud and clear, Nigeria is having a second independence where the masses have a say and can challenge democratic colonialists.
If I may add more to what the Inspector General of Police said about the reformation process the followings should be implemented with immediate effect: reasonable increment in salaries, better living accommodations; body cameras; full uniforms with visible name tags, resubmission of job application and regular training on rules of engagement and bi-yearly mental health assessment/ certification. Going forward, police officers should have five credits including English language. Most engagement with the public goes awry on account of officers inability to understand written and spoken English language. Also, no more recruitment of political thugs by politicians into the police force.
Nigerian youths are not done exhausting their anger. They hate everything called politics and or politicians. They have tried hard to stay away from looking that way until this protest aimed at preserving their own very life stirred up their suppressed loath. Most of them were teenagers when Buhari became president. Now they are in their twenties and life's a struggle on a daily bases. If they refuse to struggle they will die of hunger, they accept to struggle they will still die in the hands of rogue police officers. It is either private kidnappers get them or government trained and armed kidnappers (police) do them under. Insurgency banditry is also what this generation copes with everyday of their lives. They are loaded with hate for the system and feel EndSARS is not doing justice enough for all they wish to change.
Remaining in the street will however do no one any good. In fact, the Buhari administration has been reasonably shamed globally and will never want a repeat of such popular protest. The youths must realize that they have made a huge impact that will help guide running of government going forward. The era of impunity has ended, the youths of today have stepped into their rightful position as leaders of tomorrow to demand justice, accountability and probity. In the next general election, they will also determine who is elected into positions of leadership.
The federal government must realize that aside the burning anger against police brutality, Nigerians are tired of bad leadership. They are tired of seeing senators, elected politicians living like royalties at the expense of the poor masses. They are tired of seeing meritocracy thrown out through the window for ethnicity and religiosity. They are already close to calling for a change in government if things continue the way they are.
If the present street protests is managed properly to end at the template of protesters, it will offer the average Nigerian youth equality in employment, food for their empty stomach, protection on account of strength in number and hope for a future that has their interest protected. They are however scared to go back home without full assurance from the government. They are not going back to do this again for the same rogue policing architecture in Nigeria. That is why they are still on the street and the government must give them assurance. Police officers still on the street hurting people are certainly not helping.
The newly created radio Soro Soke is one of the best things to have come out of the protest. It is going to come handy once there is a need for a clarion call on the youths to converge on the street if the promises are not implemented. Once again, the battle has been won resoundingly, prolonging the street protests with the interference of hoodlums will make the youths lose the war.
Ebije is a media practitioner, he writes from Canada